As I’ve taught 5th, 9th, and 12th grade, I came to a troubling observation: as learners progressed through school, their confidence and self-belief decreased.
Curious, I decided to explore this concerning issue.
That’s one of the main reasons I created this site and wrote the Dear Child of Mine Series.
As parents and teachers, we want our children to grow up with a healthy sense of self-worth.
We know, a positive self-image can greatly impact their overall well-being and success in life.
Here are 3 strategies that I have learned from my experience working with developing youth, which can assist in fostering a positive self-worth in your child:
1. Acknowledge Their Efforts to Develop Self-Worth
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to appreciate your child's efforts.
- learning a new skill,
- completing a task, or
- facing challenges,
acknowledge their hard work and perseverance.
By praising their efforts rather than just the outcome, you teach them that their value lies in the process rather than the end result.
(Mueller & Dweck, 1998)
For example, instead of focusing solely on grades or achievements, praise them for:
- their dedication,
- problem-solving abilities, or
- willingness to try new things.
Praising effort is important because it eventually helps the child become stronger and feel good about themself from within (not just because someone else approves of them.)
External validation, particularly through grades, can be detrimental to students who fail to see the value of getting a grade.
Relying solely on high grades for approval overlooks personal growth and learning.
This dependence on external approval can erodes self-confidence and self-worth. Students must develop internal validation and resilience by recognizing their strengths and accomplishments independently of external measures.
As parents, it's important to teach our children the value of more than just getting good grades. Encourage them to find motivation from within and pursue their passions.
This way, they can experience fulfillment that goes beyond seeking approval through grades alone. This mindset helps build lasting self-confidence.
2. Foster Open Communication and Active Listening
Creating an environment where your child feels safe expressing themselves is crucial for building self-worth.
Let me repeat that and a little bit louder for the people in the back...
CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE YOUR CHILD FEELS SAFE EXPRESSING THEMSELVES.
Encourage open communication by actively listening without judgment or interruption when they share their thoughts, feelings, or concerns.
I understand how this can be extremely difficult as the ‘adult in the room’, however this space needs to be given for a student or child to come into an understanding of themself.
Two quick ways to connect through active listening are:
- Make time for regular one-on-one conversations with your child where they have your undivided attention. This could be a weekly gathering where it’s understood to be a place to express without judgment.
- Show genuine interest in what they have to say and validate their emotions by empathizing with them.
By fostering open communication and active listening, you create a supportive space where your child feels valued and understood—a key component in developing their own healthy self-worth.
It’s worth noting what active listening isn’t. (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). It’s not:
Each of the above examples can become ‘barriers’ that stops the young person from exploring themselves.
It’s as if the ‘adult in the room’ is saying, "Stop! No...listen to me! I know what's best!" Which...even if ‘true’, doesn’t serve you if you’re goal is to develop their self-worth. (Levitt, 2002)
Confidently exploring their ideas is the goal here.
Be a trusted advisor in that exploration.
3. Focus on Strengths and Encourage Personal Growth to Increase Self-Worth
Every child has unique strengths and talents; simply recognizing these qualities can boost their confidence significantly. (Pavot & Diener, 2008)
Pay attention to what your child enjoys doing or excels at—whether it's sports, music, art, or academic subjects—and provide opportunities for them to explore and develop those strengths.
Encourage personal growth by setting realistic goals with your child and supporting their efforts to achieve them.
- Celebrate their milestones along the way, and
- help them understand that setbacks are a natural part of the learning process.
By focusing on their strengths and encouraging personal growth, you bring their attention to their strengths, and you empower your child to believe in themselves and their abilities.
Again, this builds a foundation of self-worth beyond external validation.
Helping your child develop a healthy self-worth is an ongoing process that requires patience, understanding, and active involvement as a ‘the psychologically wise adult in the room’.
- acknowledging their efforts,
- fostering open communication,
- focusing on strengths, and
- encouraging personal growth,
you can lay the groundwork for your child's positive self-image that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Most importantly, remember: every child is unique;
adapt these strategies to suit
your family and child's individual needs and personality.
Wishing you all the best on your journey as
‘the psychologically wise adult’ in the room.
Levitt, D. H. (2002). Active listening and counselor self-efficacy: Emphasis on one microskill in beginning counselor training. The Clinical Supervisor, 20(2), 101–115.
Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998).
Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33–52. doi:10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.206
Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013).
Motivational interviewing: Preparing people for change. Guilford Press.
Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (2008). The satisfaction with life scale and the emerging construct of life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 3(2), 137–152.